In Vasan Bala’s Monica, O My Darling, the title character Monica (Huma Qureshi), who works as a secretary at Unicorn Robotics, uses her pregnancy to blackmail Jayant (Rajkummar Rao), the future son-in-law of the CEO. She has no objection to whether or not she wants to keep the baby. Monica tells Jayant that she was handling herself quite well and is handling the baby as well. No need to worry, Jayant can go back to his girlfriend and marry her. It’s all right. Only that, Monica reminds, is so expensive these days with all the schools and education. Monica would definitely need his financial support. She draws her line clearly.
What’s so refreshing about Monica is that she’s never ashamed of her actions. You stand behind her because you know she’s such a horrible person; not because she’s loathsome, but because she knows there’s no way she’s going to be able to enjoy what life has to offer by following the same straight path. Monica knows that if she doesn’t stand up for herself, she’ll always be stuck in the corporate net. She knows what she’s doing is terrible and can ruin lives forever, but that’s none of her business. Soon we will find out that Monica is not only blackmailing Jayant, but also other men in the same company — the CEO’s son, Nishikant (Sikandar Kher) and the account team guy named Arvind (Bucks). She is fearless but never reckless, fully aware of her selfishness between these men. She can see through these men’s double standards and uses it to her own advantage.
Later, when Jayant tells her with a shrug that he’s worked hard to get to his current position, it takes Monica no more than a second to break his delusion and jokes with the stone-cold truth that it’s not because of his Talents is there, but only because his sob story is good. Coming from an unsupported middle-class family, hardworking and sincere, he will do anything to save the empire. It is this story that is connected, nothing else. Jayant is visibly shaken by her coldness. Qureshi is a riot as Monica, making her feel like she’s definitely a close friend of Andhadhun’s Simi, another amoral character played perfectly by Tabu. Guess both Andhadhun and Monica, O My Darling were written by the same man — Yogesh Chandekhar.
Aside from Monica, there’s ACP Naidu, played by Radhika Apte, who is having the most fun. She arrives halfway through the film with a nonchalance that one would not formally associate with such a position. That’s the catch — we never really see Naidu fit anyone’s idea of being a cop. It shapes the patriarchal network of compliance with certain rules and standards of behavior in abundance. Her first words to Jayant are to turn around and read what she wrote on the blackboard — “Never drink alone, don’t shit together.” Take me seriously, she says right after. It is impossible to think of any other actor than Radhika Apte in the role; She is the true scene thief of the film.
Naidu’s way of dealing with her suspects is to catch them immediately off guard. She doesn’t come with the baggage of a senior police officer who has to speak loudly and authoritatively to get her answers. In most cases she gets no answer. There’s a certain shamelessness in the way Naidu treats the people she meets, only using the power of her position when she needs it. Otherwise, no undue importance needs to be attached to her role, and she is happy to be away from the screen occasionally. In one scene she withdraws cash from the local ATM, in another she returns with shopping bags. Important revelations occur in both scenes. The mainstream Bollywood stars donning uniforms and leaping through houses chasing suspects can take note. What other female character playing a police officer compares to Naidu? Definitely not the stern and stern Meera Deshmukh from Drishyam, another role happened to be played by Tabu. Next week’s sequel, starring Ajay Devgn, also marks Meera Deshmukh’s return. It will be interesting to see how Meera catches up with Naidu.
Beyond all of these comparisons, both Monica and Naidu influence the flow of the whimsical thriller with incredible force. Note that Naidu and Monica never really share a scene together, and in most scenes they are either alone or dealing with men in the room. Settled in their own totally patriarchal workplace, these two women have left their work to themselves. Most importantly, both Monica and Naidu aren’t just defined as the male character’s love interest. Monica’s idea of love is extremely materialistic, her goal is to be able to spend money on things she loves. Her love for Jayant has more to do with surviving than finding a mate in him. As for Naidu, she’s too exhausted from processing the unreasonable gossip surrounding her professional life to give us even a glimpse into her personal relationships.
Monica, O My Darling just isn’t interested in invading her wives’ private lives and feeding us the warped logic of love, which is the savior in such an aggressively economic system. The women are wild and put their careers ahead of everything else. Each of them has the power and works around it strategically, their priorities clipped. Neither of them need a backstory or subplot to make their intentions clear. Kudos to director Vasan Bala and writer Yogesh Chandekhar for leaving these women to go their own way. If the system is rigged, you can’t blame them for not playing along. Whether you love them or hate them is your choice. Whether they survive at the end of the game is another question entirely. The deal is, without them the game wouldn’t have started.